Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Bono: The Rolling Stone Interview

In 1985, shortly after U2 broke through in America, Rolling Stone named them the "band of the Eighties." Over the course of 30 years and 16 cover stories, the magazine has forged a deep relationship with U2. The band's new album, Songs of Experience, topped the charts in early December, meaning U2 now have a Number One album in each decade from the Eighties on.

I first interviewed Bono in 2005, when we talked for 10 hours over a long weekend in Cancún, Mexico, starting an intimate dialogue about rock & roll, social justice, faith and the purpose of art. This interview picks up where that one left off, although this time the stakes are much higher. The election of Donald Trump and a rising wave of fascism in Europe had rocked Bono, as had a near-death experience he suffered while making Songs of Experience. While he still finds it difficult to talk about his "extinction event," as he calls it, Bono opened up about its profound effect on both his life and on the new album.

We conducted the interview over two sessions at the kitchen table of my New York apartment, around the corner from Bono's own place in the city. In person, Bono is warm, engaging and thoughtful, even while discussing difficult subjects. What shines through as much as anything is his ambition, which burns as brightly as ever. U2 remain hungry – for new approaches to songwriting, for finding their place in the age of streaming, for a new tour planned for the spring. Bono continues to pour his energy into global causes, meeting with world leaders and working on behalf of his ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty. He is the rarest of rock stars – an artist and an activist in the same measure. As always, he remains an optimist – and one of rock's greatest talkers, full of wit and candor and poetry.

You just finished the Joshua Tree tour. Nostalgia is something U2 like to avoid, so what was it like going out and playing an old album every night?

The stance that we took was [to act] as if we had just put out The Joshua Tree the week before. So there were no old Super 8 films or anything to give the sense of that time. We felt that its strength was that it had meaning, maybe even more meaning now than it did then. That was the conceit, and it got better and better. We ended with four nights in Sao Paulo, in front of, I think, nearly 300,000 people, and it was quite the crescendo.

But if I am honest – and I probably should be in this interview – I haven't quite recovered from it. I gave myself to the singing in new ways, but there wasn't a lot of going out and discovering the places we were playing, the cities that we were playing, which I really love to do. Stepping inside the songs was more of an ordeal than I thought it would be. They are very demanding in terms of their emotional – what word am I looking for . . . forthrightness. And then we were preparing for Songs of Experience. All that promotion takes a lot more work than I remember, but if you believe in the songs, you have to defend and present them.

Songs of Experience just debuted at Number One on the albums chart, which means you've had a chart-topping album in every decade from the Eighties on. Why do you still push so hard for hits?

I mean, it's not for everybody – and it can't be for us all the time. But it just felt right. These last two albums mix up the personal and the political so that you don't know which one you're talking to. That's a kind of magic trick, and realizing that of course all the problems that we find in the exterior world are just manifestations of what we, you know, what we hold inside of us, in our interior worlds. The biggest fucker, the biggest asshole, the biggest, the most sexist we can be, the most selfish, mean, cunning, all those characters you are going to see them in the mirror. And that is where the job of transformation has to start first. Is that not what experience tells us?

How did you envision Songs of Experience in relation to Songs of Innocence, its companion album from 2014?

I had this idea of your younger self talking to your older self for quite a while. It is an interesting dramatic device. [Several years ago] I was at an exhibition of Anton Corbijn's photographs in Amsterdam, and someone asked me what would I say to this photo; I think it was a shot of me at age 22. I thought about it, and then I said, "Stop second-guessing yourself. You're right."

And then the person asked what the younger me would say to the older me. I got a bit nervous. I wasn't sure. I took that hesitation as a clue that maybe I wasn't comfortable with where I am now. I was starting to realize that I had lost some of that fierceness. Some of that clarity, that black-and-white point of view.

But now it seems like you're in another place entirely. It seems like you have more clarity, that you learned more.

I'm less unsure about taking political risks or social risks. When I became an activist, people were like, "Really?" But they eventually accepted that. Then I started to be interested in commerce and the machinery of what got people out of poverty and into prosperity. And then a few people said, "You can't really go there, can you?"

I said, "But if you are an artist, you must go there." You and I have had the conversation over the years: What can the artist do? What is the artist not allowed to do, and are there boundaries? Now, I would say to my younger self: "Experiment more and don't let people box you in. There is nothing you can't put on your canvas if it is part of your life." We have this idea in the culture that came out of the Sixties and Seventies, that artists were somehow above the fray, or should be above the fray.

That they have an excuse not to participate.

I had an excuse not to participate. But I knew that some people who have regular jobs are just as valuable as the artists, maybe more valuable. And there are more assholes per square inch amongst us artists. I remember meeting Björk, and she said that in Iceland, making a chair is a big deal. Like, a song is not more important than a chair. And I went, "Well, depending on the chair, Irish people know that to be true." So if that is true, then stop this nonsense that an artist is an elevated person.

One thing this record seems to be about is survival. The survival of the world, and of our political system. But let's talk about your own survival. In the middle of recording, you had a near-death experience. Tell me what happened.

Well, I mean, I don't want to.

I understand. I had my own experience recently. People want to ask about my health, and I'm hesitant to talk about it. Why do I feel that way? Am I ashamed? Is it weakness I am trying to cover up?

It's just a thing that . . . people have these extinction events in their lives; it could be psychological or it could be physical. And, yes, it was physical for me, but I think I have spared myself all that soap opera. Especially with this kind of celebrity obsession with the minutiae of peoples' lives – I have got out of that. I want to speak about the issue in a way that lets people fill in the blanks of what they have been through, you know?

It's one thing if you were talking about it in a place of record like Rolling Stone, but by the time it gets to your local tabloid it is just awful. It becomes the question that everyone is asking.

But let's talk about it in an elliptical sense. I mean, it's central to the album.

Yeah. This political apocalypse was going on in Europe and in America, and it found a perfect rhyme with what was going on in my own life. And I have had a hail of blows over the years. You get warning signs, and then you realize that you are not a tank, as [his wife] Ali says. Edge has this thing that he says about me, that I look upon my body as an inconvenience.

In 2000, you had a throat-cancer scare, right?

No, it was a check for it. One of the specialists wanted to biopsy, which would have risked my vocal cords – and it turned out OK.

A few years ago, I visited you in the hospital with your arm in some kind of George Washington Bridge structure.

After my bike accident, pretending it was a car crash.

It looked bad, and then the latest thing. That is a lot of brushes with death.

There is comic tragedy with a bike accident in Central Park – it is not exactly James Dean. But the thing that shook me was that I didn't remember it. That was the amnesia; I have no idea how it happened. That left me a little uneasy, but the other stuff has just finally nailed me. It was like, "Can you take a hint?"

You are making the album and then all of a sudden you had to deal with your health issue. How did it affect the album and your vision of it?

Well, strangely enough, mortality was going to be a subject anyway just because it is a subject not often covered. And you can't write Songs of Experience without writing about that. And I've had a couple of these shocks to the system, let's call them, in my life. Like my bike accident or my back injury. So it was always going to be the subject. I just didn't want to be such an expert in it.

I met this poet named Brendan Kennelly. I have known him for years; he is an unbelievable poet. And he said, "Bono, if you want to get to the place where the writing lives, imagine you're dead." There is no ego, there is no vanity, no worrying about who you will offend. That is great advice. I just didn't want to have to find out outside of a mental excursion. I didn't want to find out the hard way.

So how did the idea of mortality come into play?

Gavin Friday, one of my friends from Cedarwood Road [in Dublin], has written one of my favorite songs. It is called "The Last Song I'll Ever Sing," about this character in Dublin, back when we were growing up, called the Diceman, who died at 42, five years after he was diagnosed with HIV. I realized only recently that "Love Is All We Have Left" is my attempt to write that song.

Can you be more precise? Like, what songs do you think came directly out of your near-death moment?

It's not so much songs as . . .

The mood of it.

I think . . . I mean, how about this: "The Showman" – that is a light song, a fun song, and it became a really important song. Not surrendering to melancholy is the most important thing if you are going to fight your way out of whatever corner you are in. Self-pity? The Irish, we are fucking world-beaters on that level; it's our least-interesting national characteristic. And I never wanted to surrender to that, so punk rock, the tempo of some songs, suddenly became really important.

But the second verse is the key, and it has the best line in the album, which is this: "It is what it is, it is not what it seems/This screwed up stuff is the stuff of dreams/I got just enough low self-esteem to get me to where I want to go." I wish I could say it was mine, but it was Jimmy Iovine who said it. A friend of mine was slagging him off, and I said, "Oh, a little insecure there, Jimmy?" And Jimmy turned around and said, "I got just enough low self-esteem to get me where I want to go."

That sounds like a realistic appraisal of you and your bullshit.

Performers are very insecure people. Gavin Friday, his line to me years and years ago was "Insecurity is your best security for a performer." A performer needs to know what is going on in the room and feel the room, and you don't feel the room if you are normal, if you're whole. If you have any great sense of self, you wouldn't be that vulnerable to either the opinions of others or the love and the applause and the approval of others.

The whole event enriched the album, though – talk about an experience.

But isn't that great? I thought Experience would be more contemplative, and it has got that side, but the heart of the album is the spunk and the punk and the drive of it. There is a sort of youthfulness about it. A lot of the tempos are up. And it has some of the funniest lines, I think. "Dinosaur wonders why he still walks the Earth." I mean, I started that line about myself.

Being a dinosaur?

Yeah, of course, but then I started to think about it in terms of what is going on around the world. And I thought, "Gosh, democracy, the thing that I have grown up with all my life . . . that's what's really facing an extinction event."

In an interview that you and I did in 2005, you said this: "Our definition of art is breaking open the breastbone, for sure. Just open-heart surgery. I wish there were an easier way, but people want blood, and I am one of them."

Life and death and art . . . all of them bloody businesses.

How did your faith get you through all of this?

The person who wrote best about love in the Christian era was Paul of Tarsus, who became Saint Paul. He was a tough fucker. He is a superintellectual guy, but he is fierce and he has, of course, the Damascene experience. He goes off and lives as a tentmaker. He starts to preach, and he writes this ode to love, which everybody knows from his letter to the Corinthians: "Love is patient, love is kind. . . . Love bears all things, love believes all things" – you hear it at a lot of weddings. How do you write these things when you are at your lowest ebb? 'Cause I didn't. I didn't. I didn't deepen myself. I am looking to somebody like Paul, who was in prison and writing these love letters and thinking, "How does that happen? It is amazing."

Now, it doesn't cure him of all, of what he thinks of women or gay people or whatever else, but within his context he has an amazingly transcendent view of love. And I do believe that the darkness is where we learn to see. That is when we see ourselves clearer – when there is no light.

You asked me about my faith. I had a sense of suffocation. I am a singer, and everything I do comes from air. Stamina, it comes from air. And in this process, I felt I was suffocating. That was the most frightening thing that could happen to me because I am in pain. Ask Ali. She said I wouldn't notice if I had a knife sticking out of my back. I would be like, "Huh, what is that?" But this time last year, I felt very alone and very frightened and not able to speak and not able to even explain my fear because I was kind of . . .

When you felt like you were suffocating?

Yeah. But, you know, people have had so much worse to deal with, so that is another reason not to talk about it. You demean all the people who, you know, never made it through that or couldn't get health care!

Do you feel like you lucked out?

Lucked out? I am the fucking luckiest man on Earth. I didn't think that I had a fear of a fast exit. I thought it would be inconvenient 'cause I have a few albums to make and kids to see grow up and this beautiful woman and my friends and all of that. But I was not that guy. And then suddenly you are that guy. And you think, "I don't want to leave here. There's so much more to do." And I'm blessed. Grace and some really clever people got me through, and my faith is strong.

I read the Psalms of David all the time. They are amazing. He is the first bluesman, shouting at God, "Why did this happen to me?" But there's honesty in that too. . . . And, of course, he looked like Elvis. If you look at Michelangelo's sculpture, don't you think David looks like Elvis?

He's a great beauty.

It is also annoying that he is the most famous Jew in the world and they gave him an uncircumcised . . . that's just crazy. But, anyway, he is a very attractive character. Dances naked in front of the troops. His wife is pissed off with him for doing so. You sense you might like him, but he does some terrible things as he wanders through four phases – servant, poet, warrior, king. Terrible things. He is quite a modern figure in terms of his contradictions. . . . Is this boring?

But if you go back to his early days, David is anointed by Samuel, the prophet Samuel, and, above all, his older brothers, a sheepherder presumably smelling of sheep shite, he is told, "Yeah, you are going to be the king of Israel." And everyone is laughing, like, "You got to be kidding – this kid?" But only a few years later, Saul, the king, is reported as having a demon and the only thing that will quiet the demon is music. . . . Makes sense to me. David can play the harp. As he is walking up to the palace, he must be thinking, "This is it! This is how it is going to happen." Even better, when he meets the king and gets to be friends with the king's son Jonathan. It's like, "Whoa, this is definitely going to happen! The old prophet Samuel was right." And then what happens? In a moment of demonic rage, Saul turns against him, tries to kill him with a spear, and he is, in fact, exiled. He is chased, and he hides out in a cave. And in the darkness of that cave, in the silence and the fear and probably the stink, he writes the first psalm.

And I wish that weren't true. I wish I didn't know enough about art to know that that is true. That sometimes you just have to be in that cave of despair. And if you're still awake . . . there is this very funny bit that comes next. So David, our hero, is hiding out in the cave, and Saul's army comes looking for him. Indeed, King Saul comes into the cave where David is hiding to . . . ah . . . use the facilities. I am not making this up – this is in the Holy Scriptures. David is sitting there, hiding. He could just kill the king, but he goes, "No, he is the anointed. I cannot touch him." He just clips off a piece of Saul's robe, and then Saul gets on his horse as they go off. They're down in the valley, and then David comes out and he goes, "Your king-ness, your Saul-ness, I was that close."

It is a beautiful story. I have thought about that all my life, because I knew that's where the blues were born.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

‘Songs of Experience’ by U2 Review: Rocking Its Classic Sound

The raw, lean authority at much of the new disc’s core harkens back to some of U2’s best albums.

By Jim Fusilli
U2's new album is ‘Songs of Experience’
U2's new album is ‘Songs of Experience’ PHOTO: OLAF HEINE

As its title suggests, U2’s new “Songs of Experience” (Interscope), out now, is kin to the band’s 2014 release, “Songs of Innocence.” Because the group took a different approach to recording the latest album, “Experience” surpasses its predecessor and connects to some of U2’s earlier, superior works.

The titles allude to William Blake’s late 18th-century poetry collections of the same names. “Songs of Innocence” is Blake’s rumination on an idyllic childhood that too soon exists only in memory. Similarly, on U2’s recording, Bono explored his teen years in Dublin, his burgeoning awareness of a larger world, and his appreciation of family and the musical heroes of his youth.

But as compelling as were Bono’s narratives, some of the “Songs of Innocence” music was at a distance from U2’s best instincts. The band has long incorporated the latest techniques in music-making into its sound, but here the muddied environment was unnecessarily overburdened with additional instrumentation contributed by the album’s five producers. Played by just the quartet when U2 took them on the road, as documented in the 2016 film “Innocence + Experience: Live in Paris,” the songs hit with power.

For “Songs of Experience,” U2 again deploys a battery of producers, thus hinting it is following the previous album’s template. When it played the beefy new ballad “The Little Things That Give You Away” earlier this year on tour, the song opened with the Edge on piano and the dull huff-ting of a drum machine. But that arrangement isn’t the one on “Songs of Experience.” Instead, the track builds to a fury with the classic U2 sound under Bono’s voice.

It’s been reported that U2, not satisfied with the new album’s direction, went into a New York studio in March with longtime associate Steve Lillywhite and re-recorded the music live without additional musicians. The raw, lean authority at the core of much of the album supports that claim. Instrumentation retained from earlier sessions and appended to the live tracks distracts as often as it enriches. But “Songs of Experience” confirms that bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. can still create a bottom so supple and sturdy that the Edge has ample room to chug, chime and roam above them on guitar.

That rhythm section is relentless on “The Blackout,” which blends the punch of rock with the snap of funk. “Summer of Love” and “Red Flag Day” are crisp and clear with the bass and the Edge’s guitar in pleasing relief. After Kendrick Lamar’s riff on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount kicks off “American Soul,” the song profits from the band’s heaviest performance on the disc. If “Songs of Experience” peters out with the cliché-ridden ballad “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way” and soppy “13 (There Is a Light)”—both of which seem to have been made by committee—the band hasn’t lost its instinct for clever pop: “The Showman (Little More Better),” which features the Edge’s acoustic guitar and a seductive performance by Mr. Mullen, is as catchy as can be.

In his “Songs of Experience,” Blake posits mankind as trapped and forlorn but able to transcend its dire circumstances through love and a refusal to submit to hypocrisy. Bono’s storytelling has long reflected a parallel view. Here, after acknowledging in “The Little Things That Give You Away” that “Sometimes I’m full of anger and grieving / So far away from believing that any sun will reappear,” in “13 (There Is a Light),” he sings, “You start with nothing / You start with a void / Love is all we have left.” The theme of “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way” is its title.

Bono tackles big issues, including his own mortality. Addressing his recent health problems in “Lights of Home,” he writes, “I shouldn’t be here ’cause I should be dead.” He restates his love for America: “This country is to me a thought that offers grace for every welcome that is sought,” he sings in “American Soul,” while conveying a sense of despair in “The Blackout”: “Democracy is flat on its back, Jack / We had it all and what we had is not coming back.” That Bono can be both a pontificating, steel-willed figure and a musician who opens his heart to admit self-doubt serves well a quartet whose great strength is its mastery of musical melodrama in the rock idiom.

Thus, at its best, “Experience” is in line with “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and “No Line on the Horizon,” U2’s finest 21st-century albums. Now in its fifth decade, it remains a great band that works best when it’s self-reliant and rocks with clarity and determination.

Mr. Fusilli is the Journal’s rock and pop music critic. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @wsjrock.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

‘It was like giving birth’: Andy Barlow on producing new U2 record Songs Of Experience

The follow-up to 2014’s Songs Of Innocence is out on Friday, December 1

Raising the bar: Andy Barlow
Raising the bar: Andy Barlow

Producer, mixer and sound engineer Andy Barlow has spoken exclusively to PSNEurope about his production work on new U2 album Songs Of Experience and how he also became the legendary rock outfit’s live sound design consultant.

Released Friday, December 1, Songs Of Experience is U2’s 14 studio album and is the follow up to 2014 album Songs Of Innocence. Already being hailed by critics as one of the band’s best records in years, Songs Of Experience sees U2 incorporate the many talents of some of the most revered producers in the game, including Barlow, Jacknife Lee, Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite and Jolyon Thomas.

Barlow’s relationship with U2, however, extends beyond the confines of the studio, having served as live sound design consultant for some the band’s notoriously spectacular shows.

Here, Barlow tells us how he wound up hitting the road with one of the biggest rock bands of all time, what it’s like to work with Bono in the studio and why making Songs Of Experience was “like giving birth”…

You’ve been working exclusively with U2 for the past two years as producer and mixer and as a consultant on sound design for their live tour. How did that come about?

Becoming their live sound design consultant happened quite casually. I was on tour with them as producer and Bono said, There are a few things we need help on including our walk-on music, would you be interested in helping us? And a few days later he said, You’re one of the live creative team now, and that was it. Because I’m an artist as well, and been on stage lots of times, I guess I was the obvious candidate to try out for it. Bono feels that when you are in the studio and the red light comes on, you are more forced to come out with ideas because that red light is on. So writing and recording on tour, in dressing rooms, backstage, the red light isn’t on and ideas flow much more effortlessly.

Tell us about the live role. The band are known for their spectacular live shows – were their any particularly unusual requests or challenges?

I’d never done the live role before and it’s a really long show. U2’s live show is over 2 hours long, and on some gigs it would be extremely demanding on Bono’s voice. Their schedule was pretty gruelling so I needed to step in and help. I would think about set list sequencing and change keys to spare his voice, listen to his voice on every section and speak to him about which parts were most demanding on his vocal chords, change the running order and find new ways of singing parts of the song. The extremes from low baritone to falsetto is much more of a strain on his vocals than anything else, so it was about looking at that and lessening the intervals and placing them differently on the live set so that we could get through the show without his voice deteriorating. Bono needed creative ways to retain his vocal power, and he was to be able to finish the yearlong tour around the world.

You produced five tracks on the new record. What was that process like?

It was bit like giving birth. The thing about U2 is if you think you know what it’s like to produce bands, working with U2 would confuse you because they do things completely differently to everyone else. For example, usually you have to win the trust of the musicians before they let you get stuck in with directing, but Bono from the first moment was without ego. He is more open to new ideas than anyone that I’ve ever worked with. When Bono would come in, he would come in with a verse, then another verse, then another verse, and I’d record all of them and Bono would then say, It’s up to you, you pick the one you like’.

Trying to write and record an album while rehearsing for shows is hard for a band, but as we progressed, it spearheaded the whole creative tsunami that followed. When we got to LA, after the tour we started to get a lot done. We were in Rick Rubin’s studio and everyone was focussed on the record. Being on the road, you can get each member for just a few minutes at a time, and we’re in a dressing room where there is not enough space to record as a band. So I would be piecing individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, rather than having the overview of recording together as a band. Apart from Ireland, LA was the first time properly that we could record the band all together.

Talk us through the gear and the studio you used to make those tracks?

We had a large UAD rig, they really like everything to be plugged in and ready to play, so every morning we would sound check guitars, keys and bass, which means having a lot of inputs. I would un-mute a channel and it would be ready to record. On the UAD rig I’ve got every plugin that it comes with. Bono really loved singing in front of speakers with a SM58, this would be run into a Universal Audio 6176, into an UAD Apollo interface via a Manley Vari Mu compressor. The drums would go into Neve 5024 Mic pre amps. I’ve been monitoring on Genelec and PMC monitors. Guitars would come into me from The Edge’s amps via Royer ribbon microphones and SM57s. Bass I would take with Adam [Clayton’s] Vintage Ampeg recorded with a Shure SM7 mic via an L2 Compressor. For The Edge’s vocals, we did lots of them again handheld, with a Telefunken M80 microphone, again via a Neve Mic pre, which worked really well on his voice.

How involved were the band on the technical side of things in the studio? How involved is Bono in mic selection, mixing etc?

They don’t give a damn, they are very happy to take my lead! The Edge is very technical and is always coming up with signal path changes and effects and processing his guitar in different ways and is a genius at it. But the band didn’t get involved in the technical side of things really; they left it to me to choose the technical equipment So they could focus on the creativity

How much pressure and expectation is there going into the studio with a band the size of U2?

Everyone on their team is the best at what they do, so it does set the bar very high. The band were extremely busy, so sometimes I only got them for an hour a day, so there would be a lot of my interpretation to get a feel for how the band felt for how I was progressing when they came in for the next session. I felt some pressure, mostly from myself for wanting to excel at it and not get lost. There was a lot of heightened pressure, not so much from them, but the enormity of working with a band on their scale.

U2 confronts the dinosaur within on new album 'Songs of Experience'

by Greg Kot

dinosaur wonders why it still walks the earth," U2 sings on “The Blackout.” It’s not the best song on the band’s new album, “Songs of Experience” (Interscope), but it may just be the most revealing.

It’s also an encouraging sign that U2’s latest crisis of faith — and there have been many in the Irish quartet’s storied if fractured career — comes with a dollop of “Jurassic Park” humor, a send-up of its own natural tendency toward bombast and overstatement. U2 lives in constant fear of turning into a classic-rock dinosaur, though it often behaves like one, and it’s refreshing to hear Bono and his bandmates confronting and poking fun at the stodgy old beast that lurks inside the decades-long stadium rockers.

“Songs of Experience” tries to remind listeners that U2 still has a few surprises left to unveil: It’s unusually subtle and low-key at times, it’s frequently self-deprecating, and it has one or two powerful moments that rank with the band’s better music. In sum, it’s kind of a mess, which means it’s a heck of a lot more interesting than its predecessor, the ill-fated 2014 album, “Songs of Innocence,” now best known as the dud that invaded iTunes user’s libraries in a poorly conceived marketing stunt cooked up by the band and Apple.

Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. have made some of their finest music when they act like they have nothing to lose. That was particularly true during the ’90s, which produced a mix of noisy, jumbled, occasionally confusing and confused albums that veered between accidental masterpieces such as “Achtung Baby!” and half-finished tangents such as “Pop” and the “Passengers” side project. It was a great time to be a U2 fan, with music that was both raw and ridiculous, with bursts of unexpected poignancy, humor and why-the-hell-not? experimentation.

The ’90s, and “Achtung Baby!” in particular, also marked the first of several “comebacks” in U2’s career. It was followed by an era of more conservative albums that recycled the band’s best ’80s moves once the experiments started to lose luster with a fan base yearning for more “Joshua Tree”-style guitar anthems.

“Songs of Experience” tries to make amends for “Songs of Innocence” by easing back slightly on the slick pop production that sucked all the character out of the earlier album’s songs. The new album was initially conceived as the “adult” sequel to the childhood memories of “Innocence,” but that plan ran aground as the album churned through nine producers and several revisions. It was finally revamped for the final time after Bono’s mysterious “brush with mortality,” as described by the Edge in a recent interview with Rolling Stone.

The initial impression left by “Experience” is of a more tempered and low-key U2, with Bono delivering some unusually warm and intimate vocals that suggest a man who has indeed faced some sort of personal reckoning. The singer has suggested that several songs were conceived as letters to his wife and children in the aftermath of his near-death experience, and that reflective tone lends a haunted quality to “Love is All We Have Left” and an aura of stunned gratefulness in “Lights of Home.”

In “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” ostensibly one of several love songs on the album that Bono addresses to his wife, the band wrestles with self-doubt over Adam Clayton’s foundation-crashing bass line. Clayton’s bass, long the band’s secret weapon, was largely muted on “Songs of Innocence,” but it resumes its Godzilla-like presence on several “Experience” songs. “I have everything, but I feel like nothing at all,” Bono sings, and later wonders, “Why am I walking away.” Is he talking about his wife? His family? The band itself?

Yet the best that can be said about lesser tracks such as “Get Out of Your Own Way” and especially “American Soul” is that Kendrick Lamar’s bleakly humorous reinterpretation of the biblical beatitudes walks away with both of them. “American Soul” wants desperately to shift the perspective to world events and the refugee crisis, but it’s a heavy-handed stomp that provides a forum for some of Bono’s most face-palm-worthy lyrics: “For refugees like you and me/A country to receive us/Will you be our sanctuary/Refu-Jesus."

Yet two subsequent tracks addressing the same issue leave a far more favorable impression. There’s the nuance of “Summer of Love,” a sparse tribute to the Syrian citizen who continued to nurture his garden amid the carnage of Aleppo. And there’s the fierce conviction and melodic propulsion of “Red Flag Day,” anchored by another shattering Clayton bass line.

The album toggles between extremes, sandwiching strong songs amid ponderous throwaways. As it winds down, the missteps pile up: a lesser husband-wife love song (“Landlady”), a bloated would-be anthem (“Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way”), and, in “13 (There is a Light),” a rewrite of “Song for Someone” from “Songs of Innocence,” apparently appended to the album to create a false sense of symmetry with its predecessor.

And yet there are also two brash tunes that sound like U2 talking to itself, and by extension its fans, about what it means to be a rock band in 2017. In the shaggy, loose-limbed “The Showman (Little More Better),” Bono suggests that all those we pay for entertainment — including, presumably, the singer in the biggest Irish rock band of all time — shouldn’t be trusted for anything. “I lie for a living, I love to let on,” Bono sings. “But you make it true when you sing along.”

Similarly, “The Blackout,” parodies arena rock with its groaning guitars and, yes, another city-stomping contribution from the irreplaceable Clayton. All doubts are extinguished “when the lights go out” and the music takes over. The takeaway: Dinosaurs really aren’t extinct. They’re alive and well and living inside Adam Clayton’s bass.

Greg Kot is a Tribune critic.

Twitter @gregkot

“Songs of Experience”


Two and a half stars (out of 4)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

U2 - Songs of Experience

U2's staying power, self-belief and hope remains admirable after all these years

By Alan Corr

The band who tried to make the devil’s music find religion face up to mortality and wrestle with geopolitics on their new album - so business as usual for U2 but there are fresh signs of vitality

U2, that most thoroughly un-rock `n’ roll of rock `n’ roll bands, are not so much shaking all over as aching all over on their 14th album. Songs of Experience is no longer a "companion" piece to 2014’s windy Songs of Innocence but a collection of thirteen new tablets of stone from the Dublin veterans, all carved with lyrics about mortality, love, and even the actual act of performance itself. 

This wouldn’t be a U2 album if front man Bono wasn’t back trying to throw his arms around the world in an over-earnest manner that threatens to smother the good work of his fellow band mates. The ongoing refugee crisis is mentioned, America’s slide into cartoon autocracy is touched upon, and matters familial take up a lot of space here. 

Bono is also facing up to mortality after a nasty bicycling accident in New York in late 2014 and, more seriously, what he calls a "recent brush with death", which he refers to on several songs here. So far, so U2 but there are also signs of life amid the naff lyrics ("For refugees like you and me/A country to receive us/Will you be our sanctuary/Refu-Jesus") and over-reaching musical bombast - the band actually sound more vital and than they have since their self-decreed comeback, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

The much delayed and much tinkered with SOE was produced by Jacknife Lee and Ryan Tedder with Steve Lillywhite, Andy Barlow (of unsung electronic music duo Lamb), and Jolyon Thomas, and the songs shimmy between traditional U2 bombast and something far deeper and self-analytical. There are cranked-up rockers like the War era Red Flag Day but there are also moments of reflection and humour like The Showman.

However, too many of these songs sound like Bono is being immolated by his self-obsession again and the listener’s interest in the singer’s private life will dictate how much room in their hearts they have for another paean from a very famous bloke to his wife and kids. The Landlady, with its pitter patter drums and clipped guitars, is a cute but slightly meandering love letter to his wife Ali and elsewhere he wonders how his children will fare as they enter into adulthood. Listening to all this is just a tad like having to view your mate’s Instagram posts of his summer backpacking in Goa. 

When poet Brendan Kenneally advised Bono to "write like you’re dead" he probably didn’t have such lines as "You are rock and roll/You and I are rock and roll/You are rock and roll" in mind. There are many other moments of facepalm naffness on SOE. You may even utter "Refu-Jesus!" several times but the alchemy of the band make up for the more mawkish moments.

The Edge has magicked up some of his more inventive and engaging riffs in years (Hendrix here, Harrison there) and the engine room of Adam and Larry stomp all over the place, reasserting themselves amid the sci-fi gospel tunes and ambient longueurs. Adam Clayton’s bass in particular prowls the precincts like a very cool cat and the nuts and bolts mechanics of Larry Mullen’s drumming often hold the over-reaching arrangements together with ballast and sheer muscle power.

That impressive gallery of top notch producers behind the desk and in the studio means that there is much sonic messing about. Some of it is thrilling; Love Is All We Have Left is a spectral prayer in which Bono tries vocoder for the first time, and the scrappy Sweet Jane styled The Showman is among the best songs here, with its self-reproofing lyric and a surprising appearance of a brass section.

Bono’s chronicle of a death foretold, Lights Of Home, also has a strong melody with yearning guitars gnawing away at the edges and mucho tub thumping from Larry before it takes off into a heart-bursting anthem. But that talent for the lumbering and the inconsequential is also present. You're The Best Thing About Me is U2 by numbers, complete with distorted bass, exotic strings, a cathartic guitar solo, and some pretty ill-judged chord changes. It is only slightly less irksome than City of Shining Lights.

Get out of Your Own Way is another one of those dispiriting U2 moments when U2 sound like The Killers trying to do a U2 song only with possibly less clichés and tuneless choruses while Kendrick Lemar’s satirical Old Testament fire and brimstone preaching is the best thing about the dumb stomp of American Soul.

There are many references to the past. The Little Things That Give You Away may touch on the small hours menace of Achtung Baby but it’s just another plodding verse/chorus workout that collapses after a breakneck dash to an anti-climax. The Blackout, however, bounds along with all the distortion of Zoo TV era on a bassline that would support a suspension bridge.

There are also plenty of well-meaning but top heavy clunkers like Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way (flatulent heroism on a grand scale) and 13 (There Is A Light), a somewhat superfluous slight return to SOI’s windswept Song for Someone.

As is often the case with U2, they are at their very best when they are vulnerable. Questioning his very motivation after a recent volley of fresh attacks, Bono even sounds almost thunderstruck by a new sense of self-awareness on at least one song here. But even after this return to form, the band will remain as polarising as the polarised world they’re singing about.

Despite it all, U2’s staying power, self-belief and hope remains admirable after all these years. Rarely have four men with so much experience sounded so very innocent.

Alan Corr @corralan

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

U2's Songs of Experience is full of desperation and meaty hooks in equal measure

U2 performing at Twickenham in July  CREDIT: BRIAN RASIC/BRIAN RASIC

by Neil McCormick

U2’s 14th studio album opens with one of the most vulnerable and fragile songs of their 41-year-career.  Love Is All We Have Left swells on trembling strings and synths, with Bono’s close, cracked vocal blending into digital auto-tune as he conjures a space age lullaby for an impending apocalypse. “This is no time not to be alive,” he sings.

It’s a short, strange, sparse vignette, its spectral beauty interrupted by a gnarly distorted guitar riff as the veteran band turn on the power, and roll exultantly into Lights of Home, a chunky anthem brushing off near-death experience (“I shouldn’t be here cos I should be dead”) to reach for the light at the end of the tunnel. “Free yourself to be yourself,” choral voices command in a coda purpose built for mass singalongs. This is surely closer to the idea that most listeners have of U2 as an upbeat, inspirational, anthemic rock band. And Songs of Experience is full of such moments: big meaty hooks matched by singalong aphorisms (“Get out of your own way!” “Love is bigger than anything in its way”). But the sound of a man in conflict and crisis also runs through the centre of this highly personal collection of songs, undercutting and ultimately deepening the spirit of can do positivity.

Songs of Experience is a companion to 2014’s Songs of Innocence (the one they controversially gave away free on iTunes, whether you wanted it or not). It even reuses some themes. A fantastic throwaway coda from that album’s Volcano returns as the hook to anti-Trump political anthem American Soul. Closing track There Is A Light is a tender reworking of Song For Someone, shifting its focus from the singer’s wife Ali to their four children, urging them to summon the strength to face uncertain times: “I know the world is done but you don’t have to be.”

As chief U2 lyricist, Bono has been at his most confessional on these two albums. Innocence was an autobiographical look back at the forces that shaped U2 growing up, its modern pop textures filtered through their new wave rock roots, as if debut album Boy was being revisited through the prism of a grown-up. On Experience, that same Man is in the grips of mid-life crisis, confronting problems in the world and himself. It was conceived by Bono as a series of letters to loved ones, something that you might write if you knew you were going to die. There have been hints of a health scare in recent interviews, although the big surprise to anyone who has known him as long as I have is that he admits to his first real crisis of faith. “Oh Jesus if you’re still my friend / What the hell you done for me?” he cries out on Lights of Home. “Sometimes the end is not coming, the end is here,” he sings with a tone of shattered bewilderment on existential ballad The Little Things That Give You Away.

U2’s familiar optimism is still present on good humoured songs like The Showman and Landlady, but it’s undercut by the inescapable impression that this is music made to keep pessimism at bay. Meanwhile personal struggles are made explicitly political on the album’s punchiest sequence, where he moves from grappling with America’s swing to the right on Get Out of Your Way (“You got to bite back / The face of Liberty’s starting to crack / She had a plan until she got smacked in the mouth / And it all went South”) to the human cost of Europe’s refugee crisis on Summer of Love (“In the rubble of Aleppo / Flowers blooming in the shadows” ).

Musically, though, Experience is perhaps their most old fashioned album, in part because they are no longer so reliant on conjuring science fiction soundscapes to compensate for musical limitations. Adam Clayton’s bass playing has never been as nimble, Larry Mullen’s drumming never more loosely free-spirited. Even inventive guitarist the Edge seems less reliant on effects, relishing juicy Beatle chords and carefully articulated slide guitar solos. As a lifelong fan, I’m not sure I entirely approve of this development, however.  There are harmonic shades of the California soft rock of Fleetwood Mac, while You’re The Best thing About Me essays the raunch of the Rolling Stones – the kind of band the young U2 wanted to sweep away but now cite as role models. Jacknife Lee and a whole team of state-of-the-art producers and engineers have been brought on board to lend everything a detailed, dynamic, up-to-date sonic polish but only one track, The Blackout, pushes towards the kind of audacious cyberpunk energy of Achtung Baby.  This is a band who are now perhaps over eager to compete on the radio and in the charts with their successors, Coldplay and The Killers, but might be better served following artier trajectories of their own.

But as the title makes plain, Songs of Experience is not the work of young men. It showcases U2 at their most mature and assured, playing songs of passion and purpose, shot through and enlivened with a piercing bolt of desperation. “The showman gives you front row to his heart / Making a spectacle of falling apart,” Bono sings with defiant humour on The Showman, and it is this spectacle that makes Experience so compelling. A little battered by time and bloodied by events, U2 remain defiantly unbowed, as determined as ever to make mass market music that really matters.

'Songs of Experience' is released on Friday

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

U2 interview: Bono on death, taxes and their new album Songs of Experience

U2 in concert at Twickenham
U2 in concert at TwickenhamDANNY NORTH

Recently, Bono has been worried about how he will be remembered when he dies. “The loss of David Bowie affected me profoundly,” he says. “And Leonard Cohen, who I didn’t know as well as David, but I knew Leonard.” Both singers were given a vibrant sendoff, and the tributes were 99% positive. That won’t happen for Bono. “At your funeral, nobody talks about what you achieved,” he says a little sadly. “They talk about whether you were funny or not. Were you kind to your kids? So I’m moving away from worrying too much about legacy, as regards U2 or my own work, to be more concerned about what my kids and friends think of me.” I met Bono in Sao Paulo last month on the terrace of his hotel, the day after another run-through of the band’s classic album, The Joshua Tree, for their sellout 2017 tour. A woman in the crowd passed out. Models posed for selfies. Owen Wilson was there, in bold floral trousers, singing his sad heart out to With or Without You. Four men thumped the night sky whenever U2 played a hit, which was a lot.

When I mention those men to Bono, he asks if I have met Javier Bardem. That’s how his conversation goes, a verbal rush through Who’s Who. Bardem, he explains, is a “champion air drummer”. He name-drops all the time, from “the Macca” to his “quite close friend” Lena Dunham. The photo below was taken by the supermodel Helena Christensen. He has a cluttered phonebook and a cluttered mind, too: answers come, but take an age to arrive. Dressed in head-to-toe black and tinted specs, it’s as if he has been preserved, not as the punk first famous 37 years ago, but as the strutting, do-gooding rock god of the 1990s. He’s like living, breathing taxidermy.

Two weeks after I met Bono, the Paradise Papers bomb dropped. He was named in them for using a “Malta-based firm to invest in a Lithuanian shopping centre”. It was an accusation of tax dodging against the poster boy for the moralising super-rich.

His spokeswoman insisted there was no wrongdoing, but he was still labelled a hypocrite. I emailed to ask how that felt. “I believe fully in transparency and have no interest in my investments being hidden, in Lithuania, Malta or anywhere else,” he replied. “This investment was in 2006, and my name has been visible to relevant authorities.” He added that he was part of a push in 2013 to give the press access to who owns what, and where. “I didn’t then, and don’t now, want to be complicit in a system that’s got way out of control in terms of its opacity. I think you can be an investor as well as an activist — there is nothing wrong with being a thorn in your own side.”

An attempt at face-saving, then, but this is why Bono’s legacy is far from secure. For non-fans he comes across as a two-faced, sanctimonious chugger. Fans, frankly, don’t care. U2 have played to 2.7m people on this year’s tour, and their popularity and mega-wealth meant that they (and I) fled the Sao Paulo stadium with a police escort, to an upscale hotel they had taken over for their crew and entourage. When we arrived, somehow the bassist Adam Clayton was already pacing the foyer in a flowing kimono.

Bono doesn’t help himself, but you have to admit that his money-raising does good. His (Red) branding exercise, for instance, has produced more than $465m for Aids work in Africa. Some of his tax bill may have been avoided, sure, but with the other hand, he doles out funds to needy causes. It is greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number maths to vex Jeremy Bentham for months.

Men of experience: Adam Clayton, Bono, Edge and Larry Mullen on tour in Brazil

Yet, however annoying Bono may be, I’ve met enough people desperate to dismiss all his work just because they hated that time an unwanted U2 album turned up on their iTunes. “I pretended in the past that it didn’t hurt my feelings, but it might have,” he says when asked about the public perception of him and his band. “But I don’t think it bothers anyone any more.”

It is telling, then, that I found Bono frail close up. On stage, he is anything but, yet from the cracks in his voice to the stories etched into his skin, he fills all his 57 years. Our meeting occurred before the Paradise Papers were released, but he already seemed spooked. I was not surprised. There are clues about his state of mind in Songs of Experience, U2’s imminent album, their 14th, which has tracks written for those he cares about most: his wife, Ali; his four children; Jesus. It’s the dark lyrics, full of nods to death, that linger.
“I’ve had a few attempted knockout punches,” Bono admits, quiet as a whisper for much of the interview. A serious bicycle crash in 2014 was widely reported, followed by the deaths of Bowie and Cohen. Were they the said punches?

“No, there’s a few things, but I won’t go into them,” he says, before stopping, thinking, picking up again. He does this a lot. “Everyone has a brush with mortality, and I don’t want to get into the soap-opera aspect, but I went, ‘OK, I may not be indestructible.’” He nods when I suggest it was a wake-up call. “A moment to stop and, in that pause, I thought, ‘I’m going to look at mortality and how it affects the way I see my family, friends and faith.’”

To this end, a striking line in the terrific Lights of Home — “Oh Jesus, if I’m still your friend” — is hard to ignore. Did Bono’s brush with death lead him from God? “My curiosity takes me to dangerous places, and I’ve been nonchalant about that,” he admits. “Partly because of my faith, but then I felt that faith go out of reach. It was last Christmas, and I was surprised. Belief is preposterous, but I have it, and I thought, ‘I’m experiencing fear!’

“It was new, and I realised I don’t want to die. I want to spend more time with my kids. There are songs I want to write, stuff I can be useful for. Then, when I admitted I was afraid, my faith returned.”

U2 have never been a subtle band, nor have they ever claimed to be. The bluster and fury of 1980s hits such as I Will Follow still stand up, though their musical power got patchier after Achtung Baby (1991), with its heavy mood and sonic experimentation. By 2004’s vast-sounding Vertigo, the Dublin foursome had become the biggest band on the planet, but their music had become vaguer, epic filler. Songs of Experience is a strong return. With classic skittering guitar from Edge, it is the simplest they’ve been for years.

“You have to watch the lurgy of progressive rock,” Bono smiles, as he cites Carole King’s Tapestry and sings one of his new songs to me as if it were a piano ballad on that album. The band’s current sound, then, is upbeat, but often Bono sounds lost. Depressingly, at one point, he sings: “The end is here.”

It’s not just his personal apocalypse he’s addressing after all; and in tackling the recent liberal apocalypse, his bluntness is really in your face. Take The Blackout, a military stomp with the line “Democracy is flat on its back”, followed by: “Is this an extinction event?” It’s as subtle as burning an effigy of Trump. This summer, a U2 show in St Louis was cancelled due to race riots. How does Bono, a part-time New Yorker, feel the country that gripped him as a child in Dublin changed in 2016?

“People have been acting like something died,” he says. “It is grief. The death of innocence. And my angle is, ‘Good!’ Now you can start. Because we lived with this idea that things would get fairer. Women’s rights. Gay rights. It was just happening. Then it stopped.”

Was it complacency? “Yes,” he says emphatically. “People believed in spiritual evolution by its own hand, but there’s no evidence for this.”

In February, in his second job as a philanthropist, Bono was criticised for a photo op with the vice-president Mike Pence. It didn’t help that he praised the politician for “hitting the ground running”, even if Bono insists he meant that day, after a night flight, not the new administration’s activities in general. Either way, the meeting was odd. Pence’s push for a “global gag” cuts aid to the very women in poverty that Bono’s Poverty Is Sexist campaign seeks to help. Why on earth meet him?

“Mike Pence is a person I believe we can work with,” Bono says. “I may not agree with him, but I believe him when he speaks. I have sympathy for idealists — what you and I might think of as narrow-minded ideological fundamentalists like Pence. If you can widen the aperture of that idealism, they’re capable of being passionate about, say, the environment or poor people. And liberals have got to be careful of that awful dismissiveness of people who have thoroughly conservative views.”

A meeting with Trump, though, isn’t on the cards. “I can’t meet with him because he doesn’t tell the truth. I have good friends in the Republican Party... It’s going to end in tears, and people will be embarrassed that the Oval Office was turned into the WWF.” (He means the wrestlers, not the animal-savers.)

Like Forrest Gump with gumption, Bono has met most of the important politicians of his era. Some strong relationships will remain so. About Aung San Suu Kyi, though — for whom U2 wrote a song — he told me: “Until I speak to her, I don’t want to vocalise too much [about the Rohingya crisis].” He was hoping to phone her and come back to me with his summation of her stance, but she didn’t accept his request for a call, which led to a band statement about blown minds and broken hearts. When he talks about her, though, or America, or his dashed hopes after the Arab Spring, it is clear that much he fought for is collapsing around him.

He mentions a quote from the activist Wael Ghonim: “The power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power.” It is beautiful, he says. His voice trembles. “Turned out not to be true.”

The next day, in Edge’s room, U2’s second most famous man is wearing his regulation hat and strumming an electric guitar in front of the TV. It’s a portable studio. Sprightly and sturdy, has he been worried about Bono of late?

“Yeah,” he says solemnly. “When your friend goes through trauma that could’ve been fatal, of course you’re concerned. Clearly, we’re at an age where we have to think about our wellbeing, because when you see so many people — not much older — just dying, it’s like, OK...” He pauses. “You start to put on the safety belts for the first time.”

About Songs of Experience, Edge says “simplicity is where music is at” now, and offers Rihanna’s sparse Anti album as inspiration. “It’s tight,” he says of their new record. “There’s no half-baked ideas.” He’s right: the tunes are much more probity than prog. Which is why the lyrics lend themselves to close scrutiny. One song, You’re the Best Thing About Me, about Ali, Bono’s wife since 1982, has a pained coda of “Why am I walking away?”.

That’s going to cause headlines! Is he prepared? “I am,” the singer says. “But I never wanted to do Ali the disservice of a sentimental song, so I wrote a midlife crisis one instead. It is a portrait of an idiot.” He goes on to explain that he had a nightmare in which he left his family. “I woke and was in tears. I went to the kitchen and got, ‘Ah, poor pet. And you left, did you?’ I’m mocked quite a lot at home.”

Bono, I have to admit, is sweet when he talks about home, maybe because nobody punctures pomposity like loved ones. That is where, in his daughters, Eve and Jordan, he sees hope for the world. “Get out of the f****** way!” he growls approvingly of a united fight he sees in women now, with recent marches and movements. “It’s the most important shift, the rising tide to lift all boats — women.”

As a sign of shifting attitudes, Ireland is set to hold a referendum on abortion. “My daughters are swinging from the rafters,” he says about the vote, planned for next year. “But telling women what to do with their bodies is unacceptable, and I think Irish people know that.” Will he make his voice heard nearer the time? “I don’t know,” he says. “They may not want my placard up there. ‘It’s OK, Bono. We’ve got this one!’”

He laughs. He is way more knowing than critics and satirists give him credit for. Back on U2’s debut album, Boy, Bono sang: “I felt the world could go far/If they listened/To what I said.” I guess he’s been arrogant since he was 20. He finds this funny, saying the line is “lovely, wistful humour — that’s one of the greatest debut albums... that we ever did”. He smiles, thinking back to that prophetic boast of a line. “Yeah,” he says, raising an eyebrow. “How are we doing on that project?”

The terrace has filled with well-wishers. Some try to give Bono a basket of milk products made by oppressed Brazilian women, while a fan with a U2 tattoo really wants him to see her arm. These people will cry when he dies, but what will his wider legacy be? The arena-filling star who aided the world’s ill and poor, or being “that hypocrite” who told people how to behave? A divisive act for divided times.

Noel versus Bono
Last month, Noel Gallagher told me a great story about hanging out with Bono. It featured the U2 singer’s home, a speech by the Irish taoiseach, a private jet, Paris and Gallagher turning on his TV to see Bono talking to President Macron. “I read it,” Bono says, smiling. Gallagher said the three-day session wiped him out. “Well,” Bono says, ”Noel is Irish in all the more inspiring ways, but he is missing that thing we call the ‘hollow leg’. He doesn’t really drink that much. I thought it was a quiet day!” Over to Gallagher: how does he like being called a lightweight?

Monday, November 13, 2017

U2 win Global Icon Award at 2017 EMAs

U2, who have now been a formidable force in global music for over 40 years, were deserving winners of the night's award.

Bono and co. received a gushing introduction from actor and 30 Seconds To Mars frontman Jared Leto.

Leto described U2 as the inspiration behind his own band 30 Seconds To Mars, and thanked U2 for their music and "poetry" over the years.

Leto made particular mention of The Joshua Tree, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, as a source of inspiration for him.

U2 had previously performed live from Trafalgar Square in a specially arranged gig that was streamed direct to the main EMA Awards taking place in Wembley.


U2 picked up two awards Friday night at the Los40 Music Awards in Madrid. First was the Golden Music Award 2017, a sort of career achievement-type award that was announced earlier this year. The band later picked up a second award, as The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 won for Tour of the Year.
Bono and Adam both gave brief speeches while accepting each award. Bono spoke a bit in Spanish and gave special thanks to U2's Spanish audience. Adam praised U2's crew for the work they do while the band is on tour. They sat at a table with their manager, Guy Oseary, and longtime friend, actor Penelope Cruz.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Do you believe in Larry Mullen Jr?

"...On drums, the thunder and lighting of the band, Larry Mullen Jnr - and when he smiles the sun comes out..." Bono on Larry


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Bono on How U2's 'Songs of Experience' Evolved, Taking on Donald Trump

I've always believed in working across the aisle ... but there's a bully on the bully pulpit and silence is not an option," says the U2 frontman

You started this album three years ago when the world was a very different place. How did the chaos of Brexit, Trump and everything else shape the eventual course of the album? Would it have been a very different album had those things not happened?

On the latter part of the question, it's hard to quantify but I would say the emotional temperature is up about 25 percent.

You've spent the past few months playing The Joshua Tree on tour as you put the finishing touches on the album. Has the tour impacted how you thought about Songs of Experience? How?

In truth, there's a couple of reasons why we delayed Songs of Experience. One personal, one political. The world around us was certainly changing out of all recognition, we nearly lost the European Union, something that has helped keep the peace in our region for nearly 70 years. Globalization replaced with localization is somewhat understandable, but the return of hard right views is not to be tolerated. If Marie La Pen had been elected president of France, the whole idea of a European Union would have been vulnerable.
You've had the same sort of disaffection in the United States with the rise of a new kind of constituency, people on the both left and right who have lost faith in political process, the body politic, in political institutions. These sentiments are easily played and manipulated by the likes of Donald Trump. In a world where people feel bullied by their circumstance, sometimes people fall prey to a bully of their own. Lots of people around me, both conservative and liberal, feel that this is one of those defining moments in their life and in the storied life of their country. After the election, some people on the left were almost grieving I'd say and when I try to understand this, I realized there was a kind of mourning, a mourning for innocence that was lost.
For the first time in many years, maybe in our lifetime, the moral arc of the universe, as Dr. King used to call it, was not bending in the direction of fairness, equality and justice for all. The baseness of political debate, the jingoism, the atavistic fervor of Trump's verbiage reminded us that we were dreaming if we thought evolution applied to consciousness. Democracy is a blip in history and it requires a lot of focus and concentration to keep it intact.
"The Blackout," which started off its life about a more personal apocalypse, some events in my life that more than reminded me of my mortality but then segued into the political dystopia that we're heading towards now. "Dinosaur, wonders why it still walks the earth. A meteor promises it's not going to hurt" would have been a funny line about an aging rock star. It's a little less funny if we're talking about democracy and old certainties – like truth. The second verse "Statues fall, democracy is flat on its back, Jack. We had it all and what we had is not coming back, Zac. A big mouth says the people they don't want to be free for free. The blackout, is this an extinction event we see?" goes straight to the bigger picture of what's at stake in the world right now.
There's a song called "Get Out of Your Own Way" where I've tried to use some biting irony to reflect the anger out on the streets "Fight back, don't take it lying down you've got to bite back. The face of liberty is starting to crack, she had a plan until she got a smack in the mouth and it all went south like freedom. The slaves are looking for someone to lead 'em, the master's looking for someone to need him. The promised land is there for those who need it most and Lincoln's ghost says get out of your own way."

Many of your albums were made with either a single producer or the team of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Why have you moved towards working with so many different producers on single albums?

Since The Joshua Tree, I don't think we've done an album with less than four producers. Though Flood is not credited as a producer on The Joshua Tree, his input was extraordinary. Achtung Baby, he was credited as a producer along with Eno, Lanois and [Steve] Lillywhite. Four producers seems to be the way for us, one for each member of the band. By the way, that's a joke. I think actually there's five on this one.

When we spoke a few months ago, you were critical of the production on 'Songs of Innocence,' saying it lacked "coherence," "should have been more raw" and that some of the songs worked better live. What did you do this time to make sure that didn't happen again?

Thomas Friedman in his book Thank You For Being Late speaks of how machines when they're put on pause cease productivity, but humans when they're put on pause begin a different kind of productivity. The pause on our album gave us a chance to play our songs live in the studio, strip them down to their bare essentials without any studio trickery to see what we really had. That was a great gift to the album even though in some cases we didn't want to run with the live feel, we learnt so much about the songs and that helped with cohesiveness.

On The Tonight Show you added lyrics to "Bullet the Blue Sky" that were unambiguously about Trump. Is that a sign you're going to become (even more) vocal about the dangers he poses to the world?

It is a little bit of a departure as I've always believed in working across the aisle as an anti-poverty activist but this isn't a matter of right or left. There's a bully on the bully pulpit and silence is not an option.

You've talked about how you want U2 to create joy in these insane times. Can you elaborate on that?

Unlike happiness, joy is one of the hardest human emotions to contrive for an artist but it is the mark of my favorite artists whether that be the Beatles, Prince, Beethoven, Oasis. It is life force itself. And I think something to do with the spilling over of gratitude for just being alive. Indeed as I think of it, Beethoven has his "Ode to Joy." The Supremes singing "Stop in the Name of Love" to me is one of the great anti-war songs. Although think it's about a lover's betrayal, the highness of the melody, the simplicity of the statement could be Ramones, could be Coldplay but I don't think there's anything more defiant than joy in difficult times. And the essence of romance is defiance. This is where rock & roll came in, this is what makes us useful. We must resist surrendering to melancholy for only the most special moments. That's a long way to say check our new single out, "You're the Best Thing About Me," it's kind of like punk Supremes.

What are the common themes that tie the songs on Songs of Experience together?

I try not to talk about William Blake too much because it sounds pretentious quoting such a literary giant but it was his great idea I pinched to compare the person we become through experience to the person who set out on the journey. If you're talking about innocence, you've probably already lost it but I do believe at the far end of experience, it's possible to recover it with wisdom. I'm not saying I have much of that but what little I have, I wanted to cram into these songs. I know U2 go into every album like it's their last one but even more this time I wanted the people around me that I loved to know exactly how I felt. So a lot of the songs are kind of letters, letters to Ali, letters to my sons and daughters, actually our sons and daughters.

There's a song called "The Showman" which is a letter to our audience, it's kind of about performers and how you shouldn't trust them too much. It's about me, haha. There's a funny line, well, I think it's funny anyway, "I lie for a living, I love to let on but you make it true when you sing along.?

It's like a Fifties Beatles-in-Hamburg type tune. There's a letter to America called "American Soul," Kendrick Lamar used a bit of this for "XXX" on his new album. And one that I didn't realize until too late that I was writing to myself, "It's the Little Things Give You Away." In all of these advice type songs, you are of course preaching what you need to hear. In that sense, they're all written to the singer. One other piece on Blake, I don't know if I'm explaining too much here but the best songs for me are often arguments with yourself or arguments with some other version of yourself. Even singing our song "One," which was half fiction, I've had this ongoing fight. In "Little Things," innocence challenges experience: "I saw you on the stairs, you didn't notice I was there, that's cause you were busy talking at me, not to me. You were high above the storm, a hurricane being born but this freedom just might cost you your liberty."

At the end of the song, experience breaks down and admits his deepest fears, having been called out on it by his younger, braver, bolder self. That same conversation also opens the album with a song called" Love Is All We Have Left." My favorite opening line to a U2 album: "There's nothing to stop this being the best day ever." In the second verse, innocence admonishes experience: "Now you're at the other end of the telescope, seven billion stars in her eyes, so many stars so many ways of seeing, hey, this is no time not to be alive." It's a chilling moment – in the chorus I was pretending to be Frank Sinatra singing on the moon, a sci-fi torch song "love, love is all we have left, a baby cries on the doorstep, love is all we have left."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bono at Forbes


To celebrate Forbes’ centennial,  the mag amassed an A-to-Z encyclopedia of ideas from 100 entrepreneurs, visionaries and prophets of capitalism—the greatest ever collection of business essayists and greatest ever portrait portfolio in business history, among them : Bono.



Purpose-Driven Rock Star: Lead Singer, U2; Cofounder, One, (Red), Elevation Partners, Rise Fund

"Capitalism is not immoral, but it is amoral. And it requires our instruction. It's a wild beast that needs to be tamed, a better servant than master."

That's my philosophy with (RED), which partners with corporations to direct profits to fighting HIV/AIDS. The idea really came about after meeting with former Treasury secretary Bob Rubin, where he said, "You have to tell Americans the scale of the problem and what they can do about it. And you have to go about that like Nike does: They spend $50 million on ad campaigns." And I said, "Well, where are we going to get that kind of money?" And he said, "You're clever. You'll figure it out."

And we did. I realized that going to big companies and trying to break into their more modest philanthropy funds was a huge missed opportunity. It was their robust marketing and publicity budgets that we needed. Think of the creative minds in those departments -- the messaging is the most important thing in keeping an issue "hot," making it relevant. Fighting HIV is very difficult. Activists often demonize the corporate world. It's easy to do, but I think it's just foolishness to not recognize the creativity that you can unlock in the corporate world, together with the entertainment world. (RED) has so far generated nearly $500 million for the fight against AIDS, but the heat (RED) companies have created has also helped pressure governments to do their part -- and that's where the big money is, with donor governments spending $87.5 billion on HIV/AIDS since 2002. That's the reason we all do this!

Some of the most selfish people I've met are artists -- I'm one of them -- and some of the most selfless people I've ever met are in business, people like Warren Buffett. So, I've never had that clichéd view of commerce and culture being different. I always remember Björk saying to me that her songs, she feels, are like carpentry. Like her friends in Iceland, one of them designs a chair. Is that more beautiful or useful than a song? Well, it depends on the chair. Or the song. I've always seen what I do as an activist, as an artist, as an investor, as coming from the same place.

Great melodies have a lot in common with great ideas. They're instantly memorable. There's a certain inevitability. There's a sort of beautiful arc. Whether it's a song or business or a solution to a problem facing the world's poor, I see what I do as the same thing. I look for the topline melody, a clear thought. Now, my friends -- and sometimes my bandmates and sometimes my family -- would see this as multiple personality disorder. But for me, it's all the same thing.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Edge on U2's 'Songs of Experience,' Bono's 'Brush With Mortality'

U2 guitarist the Edge explains how a major scare in Bono's life caused big changes to the band's new LP 'Songs of Experience.' Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

By Andy Green
The past three years have tested U2 in different ways, from the fierce backlash they received for gifting 2014's Songs of Innocence to every iTunes user to Bono's devastating bicycle accident, which left him with several fractured bones and a shattered left arm. But those setbacks didn't compare to another crisis Bono faced last year. "He had a brush with mortality," says the Edge, choosing his words carefully (the band won't go into detail on the matter). "He definitely had a serious moment, which caused him to reflect on a lot of things."

The episode caused the band to rethink Songs of Experience, a companion to Songs of Innocence that they had already been working on for more than two years. The resulting LP features less of the slick production that defined Innocence, in favor of a more classic formula: propulsive guitar rockers and ballads that look inward. "I wanted the people around me that I loved to know exactly how I felt," says Bono. "So a lot of the songs are kind of letters – letters to [my wife] Ali, letters to my sons and daughters."

The day after U2 played a show at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Edge called up Rolling Stone to talk about the long road to Songs of Experience and look ahead to next year's arena tour in support of the album. (We also conducted an extensive email interview with Bono that will be going up shortly.)

I see you guys debuted "You're the Best Thing About Me" last night. How did that go?
I wouldn't say it was the best we'll ever play it, but it was good. We hadn't played there recently and the crowd was really into it. I think it was one of the better shows.

You started Songs of Experience in 2014, and some of the shows go back even before that. The world has changed so much since then. How did those external factors change the focus and scope of the album?Mostly what we wanted to do was sit back and see how we felt about it coming out into a world that had taken a big lurch in a different direction. We weren't assuming we'd have to start again and, in fact, we didn't need to. The changes that occurred were predominantly lyrical, and in some cases they were quite subtle. A couple of songs subtly shifted to just sort of emphasize one aspect or better express what we were feeling and the ideas we wanted to put into it. But from a musical point of view, what happened with this delay, which was kind of amazing and great, is that we had all of the songs figured out and most of them recorded to the extent that they were releasable towards September of last year. But a year ago we were kind of feeling that we wanted to explore other production approaches and other ways the songs could be arranged and performed. We felt the band chemistry wasn't as represented as we thought it maybe ought to be.
So in the fall of last year we went back into a room as a band, initially without Bono and then he joined us for a couple of days at the end of the period, and we just played the songs. We played them with half an eye and ear to how they might be performed in a live concert setting. Part of the reason for doing that is that we always went through this kind of routine where we'd record own album, put it out and and then we'd start rearranging the songs live. Then our producers would show up halfway through the tour and they'd be like, "Oh, shit, man, that tune is sounding so cool now. I really wish we'd had that arrangement on the album." Steve Lillywhite used to say, "You guys should finish the album, go on tour with it, learn it, understand the songs fully, and then go back in the studio and re-record it in a week."
We didn't quite do that. We didn't get to perform in front of an audience, but by going back to the rehearsal space and then actually going back to the studio to re-record some of the songs we were able to find a synthesis of the raw band performances and some of the stuff we had created before. We'd sort of import keyboard performances and little ideas we liked from pervious versions and find a way to put them in. It became kind of the best of the band chemistry mixed in with the best of the 21st-century production technology. It's given it a more interesting aesthetic.
I spoke to Bono a couple of months ago and he said he felt thatSongs of Innocence lacked a coherence to the production and should have been more raw.There's this dichotomy to production standards these days where the music listener is used to really precise and simple, stripped-down arrangements so the inaccuracies of a band playing in a room where everything bleeds into everything else is not what's happening. It sounds, dare I say it, old-fashioned. We love when that works for us and we love that feel of people playing in a room, when it sounds fresh. But I think we're also wary of the fact that that sound is associated with 20, 30 years ago. We need to make sure, as we always have done, that we are part of a current conversation that's going in music culture in terms of production, songwriting, melodic structure, all the things that keep the culture moving forward.
What we don't want to be is caught in what I describe as a cultural oxbow lake where others are moving forward and you're still faithfully doing what you've always done, but now you're anachronistic and part of a historical form rather than what's actually pushing the boundaries forward, the flow of where it's going. We'll usually try to have our cake and eat it. We want it both: the hallmarks of the classic band, which is becoming more and more rare, but we also don't want to be perceived, and we don't want to be, a veteran act out of touch with the culture. It's a dance. It's a balance. If we allowed the album to be one extreme or another it would be wrong. It's finding that balance between what we do as a band naturally and then what we can still do in the studio. And the studio is still a songwriting tool for us and the production process is still a songwriting process as well as a production process.
I guess that balance is why you brought in so many different producers for this album.Yeah. I mean, they don't necessarily all work on every song. We ending up bringing in Steve Lillywhite, who we just had this wonderful relationship with in terms of getting in the room and working out arrangements and the minutiae of drum parts and guitar parts. Steve is just a wonderful facilitator for all of us go kind of get into ideas and refine our thing. We've also got Jacknife Lee, who we have worked with for many years. He's got this fascination with hip-hop production and he also works with guitar bands, so he has a foot in a couple of different camps.
Then you have Andy Barlow. He's a full on electronica and synthesizer producer that's not really used to bands or guitars, but he's amazing in other ways. Ryan Tedder is an amazing collaborator and his melodic sense is just so strong. When we're around Ryan these songs get better and better. The choruses get better. The hooks get better. The arrangements get more lean and more focused. And then Jolyon Thomas is a great state-of-the-art rock & roll producer in that he gets and loves bands. He gets and loves guitars, but at the same time what is the right guitar sound so you don't come across like you aren't right up to the minute. There are subtle things sometimes, just the difference between a White Stripes guitar sound and a Led Zeppelin guitar sound. In some ways it's a subtle thing, but in other ways they are worlds apart.
Is Steve your closer? Do you bring him in at the end to see it all out?Hmmm ... Yes and no. I think in this instance, it was more for the organic side of the record. He came in to work on that. At times, we had almost rival versions. We'd have a song like "The Blackout" where we almost had two versions of it. There would be a more organic version and then in a studio upstairs we had another version that was slightly more 21st century, slight more stripped down. We put the album together on a case-by-case basis. "Well, this one can be a little more organic because that one is a bit more processed and disciplined sonically." You probably noticed that the version of "You're the Best Thing About Me" that we released is quite different than the one we are playing live, and the final mix is like six weeks away.
How do you guys pick between songs? What is the process?The process is that we slowly sort of start to put the cornerstone songs in place and then we fill in around them and get clues about the overall identity of the record. For me, one of the breakthrough tune was "The Lights in Front of Me," which is now called "The Lights of Home." We had very rock & roll verses in it that sounded really great, but it was a little retro. We kind of knew it was in the running because we just loved it so much, and then Jacknife did a more stripped-down arrangement. The drums were sort of an open question, so Larry went in and played drums, so it had the discipline of a very contemporary production, but then with this amazing, very beautifully played human drum part on top of it. I think because it was recorded on its own it can kind of occupy the sound spectrum that it does. It still sounds really modern, but it almost sounds like it has a hip-hop influence or rather an R&B influence than a rock one. Anyway, those small little clues sometimes make you go, "OK, wow, that's the synthesis we're trying to achieve here."
In the case of "You're the Best Thing About Me," we were really excited about the mix we had six weeks ago. Then we started talking about how we were going to play it live and I went back to some early demos and found this one that had done at a point when we were experimenting with different arrangement ideas. It was an experiment we hadn't pursued and I thought, "This would be a good approach if we play it live," which we did on the Jimmy Fallon show. It's a fleshed-out approach with some new guitars.
Then Bono came into the studio to listen to it and was like, "OK, something is happening here. It's a better song now. I can't explain why, but I'm feeling something off this." So we kind of went off in a panic with us working furiously with two days to go before we had to turn the single in and get it to everybody for their consideration. We ended up agreeing that the simplicity, the rawness of it offers a counterbalance to the lyric and melody, which is very classic. It's a love song and it kind of takes it in a more convincing way. Somehow the song seems better - and it was totally last minute